Using AA's 12 Traditions at Home

Ways to ensure family peace and happiness

The 12 Traditions were written so AA could have healthy groups. Couples and families are actually small groups, and the traditions can be used at home to ensure peace and happiness.

  • The Twelve Traditions say, "Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern."
    It's useful to be of service to each other, rather than try to govern someone else. If we have ever tried to govern our spouse, or even our teenagers, we quickly find out how much trouble that can be when we encounter the inevitable rebellion and sabotage. However, if each family member tries to be of service, helping others get the most out of life, then the dynamics in the family flow in a much more positive way. Instead of trying to rule over my children, I tried to be of service to them by helping to teach them to become responsible adults.
  • The traditions say "Each group should be autonomous, except in matters affecting another group or AA as a whole."
    In a healthy couple or family, each person can retain substantial autonomy and still belong. Members can have different religions, different political views, different friends, and different leisure activities, and still belong to the couple or family. Family members don't have to be codependent or "joined at the hip." Children don't have to be the same as their older siblings. We can all be individuals and still be loved.
  • The traditions say "Each AA group has but one primary purpose - to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers."
    Our families can exist to love and care for each member in facing the challenges of life: emotional support, financial support and practical help when needed, sharing joys and lending strength.
  • The traditions say "Every AA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions."
    Couples and families minimize problems when they are self-supporting through their own work. When they are not dependent on distant family members or friends, they don't have to live with their rules and expectations of other people. When families' spending exceeds their self-support, the increasing load of debt makes their future harder and harder as the years go by.
  • The traditions say "Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy."
    Couples and families can decide that our love and unity are more important than any outside issue. We can choose not to have bitter arguments over issues that none of us have the power to change at our dinner table. We can "agree to disagree" about issues such as politics, the environment, economics, and public policy, and not damage our relationships over things we do not control.
  • The traditions say "Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles above personalities."
    Couples and families can commit to the belief that every single person we meet, in and out of the family, is a child of God, and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. We begin by granting each other that dignity and respect. We act on the principles of "H.O.W." at home; Honesty, Openness, and Willingness. We then try to carry these principles beyond our home, as a family, into everything we do.

This sounds like a lot to remember and a lot to put into practice, but the simplest set of spiritual principles in AA's "Big Book" is H.O.W.: Honesty, Openness, and Willingness. We can start applying H.O.W. in all our affairs right now. It is easy to remember, and easy to do. It will change us and our relationships.

John MacDougall, Dan Anderson Renewal Center presenterJohn MacDougall is the spiritual care coordinator at The Retreat in Wayzata, Minnesota. He was previously at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation for 20 years, and is the author of  Being Sober and Becoming Happy.

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